Young man looking out of a windowAttention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) causes impulsive or hyperactive behavior. People with ADHD might have emotional outbursts or trouble focusing. They may be forgetful. They may also find it difficult to pay attention or stay organized. This can cause problems at school or work.

ADHD diagnoses have sparked controversy. This may be because it is often diagnosed in children. It is diagnosed more now than in the past. Stimulant medications may also be prescribed to control symptoms. Still, the condition is real and affects both children and adults. It can become serious if left untreated.

Medication can be helpful, especially in the short-term. In the long-term, therapy can be effective at treating ADHD. Therapy may also be helpful when used alongside short-term medication. A therapist or counselor can help if you or someone you know shows signs of ADHD.

Controversy Over ADHD Diagnosis

Diagnoses of ADHD in adults and children have been increasing. These diagnoses often get a great deal of public attention. ADHD medication is prescribed often. Studies show one to two students in almost every American classroom may take medication for ADHD. Many of the behaviors listed as symptoms of ADHD may seem vague. This can add to the contention around ADHD diagnoses and treatments.

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What is the difference between symptoms of ADHD and trouble following routines? Society often expects people to stick to routine. People do so in school or at work. For some, this expectation may be irritating but manageable. For others, it may feel natural. But some find it almost impossible to follow strict routines. They may have trouble working on tasks that are not stimulating. They may have difficulty resisting impulses that seem natural. It may feel preferable to play, talk, or let attention wander.

People facing an ADHD diagnosis may have questions. Questions people may have about ADHD and themselves or their children could include:

  • Is my child’s hyperactivity the problem? Or is hyperactivity due to youthful energy instead?  
  • Is medication necessary to help my child behave in the classroom? Might relaxation skills, a smaller classroom, or a change in diet also help?
  • Does my child really have ADHD? Or do symptoms come from boredom in a class that is not challenging enough? 
  • How do I know if my trouble focusing is severe enough to need treatment?

What Causes ADHD?

ADHD runs in families. It may be genetic, as well. The condition also has an environmental component. 

Some studies have looked into the links between sugar, food additives, and ADHD. Research on these theories has shown neither as a likely cause. Other studies analyze link between substance use in pregnancy and ADHD. This research shows smoking and alcohol use in pregnancy may increase the risk of ADHD. Lead exposure in young children can also affect how ADHD develops. 

Some theorists argue ADHD comes from living in a stressful society. They posit that academic demands cause hyper and distracted behavior in children.

Symptoms of ADHD

People with ADHD may:

  • Have trouble listening
  • Find it diffiult to sit still for a long period of time
  • Tend to get distracted easily
  • Have hyper behavior
  • Find it difficult to pick up study skills or work habits
  • Find time management difficult
  • Become easily bored or require constant stimulation

Anyone can experience these issues. But ADHD can make these difficulties more severe. Most people can concentrate on certain tasks by resolving to do so. People with ADHD may find this more challenging.

Types of ADHD

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) outlines three subtypes of ADHD. These are predominantly inattentive presentation, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined hyperactive-impulsive presentation. The first two subtypes have their own sets of symptoms. The third may show symptoms from either of the first two subtypes.

  • Predominantly inattentive presentation. This subtype shows more inattention and less hyperactivity. Children may sit quietly in class and appear to be working. This is because they do not act out or have trouble getting along with others. These symptoms may be overlooked. Few symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity may be present.
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive. Most symptoms come from the hyperactivity-impulsivity category. Inattention may still be present. Hyperactivity and impulsivity will be more apparent.
  • Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive. Six or more symptoms are present. They can come from either of the other two categories. This subtype is the most common.


Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and ADHD describe the same condition. The DSM classified them separately for a brief time. Professionals often no longer use the term "ADD." The criteria for ADHD in the DSM-5 changed in 2013. They now include three subtypes of the condition. Previously, there were only two. The inattentive subtype generally describes what was ADD.

The Difference Between High Energy and ADHD

There are ways to tell if someone has ADHD or is highly energetic. One way is to learn about the symptoms' context. Where and when do the attention problems occur? Do they occur only at certain times, or are they more constant? Some children cannot sit through math class. But they can talk with adults, watch long movies, or play chess. For children like this, ADHD may not be the right diagnosis. ADHD may be present if impulsive behavior occurs in most parts of daily life.

Consulting with a therapist can help you learn if you have ADHD. A therapist may use an assessment to help diagnose ADHD. These tests can help therapists tell the difference between ADHD and high energy.


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